For generations of pastors, seminary has been a rite of passage. Respected by many, required as a credential by a large number of denominations, seminary has been seen as a necessary last stop on journey to “real world” ministry.
Over the years, seminaries have crafted curricula that denominational leaders have judged to contain the essential elements for effective ministry – theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, Greek and Hebrew. More recently, courses in human psychology, counseling, culture, and organizational processes have crept into syllabuses to round out a core preparation. Even more recently, seminaries have begun to offer courses in leadership.
And yet, as I coach ministers across this country, I hear again and again the complaint that these pastors have been ill-prepared to face the realities of day-to-day ministering. This inadequacy often appears when the newly minted minister first sits down in the church board meeting.
The new pastor is nearly paralyzed: I’m the leader. What do I do now? What’s important? What’s not? This is intensified the moment conflict begins to develop. And panic often ensues when that conflict devolves on the pastor.
Over the years, I have been able to identify at least six things that pastors wish they had learned in seminary, but did not. Here are the first three.
Leadership isn’t a noun; it’s a verb.
It’s not a person, it’s an activity. When people talk about “born leaders,” they are typically describing a particular style of leadership that takes on a command and control character. People feel most comfortable when a strong leader of this genre steps up and takes responsibility to lead people in some prescribed direction. These leaders clarify direction and are good at mobilizing people to move in that clarified direction.
This activity of leadership, what we often describe as true leadership, is merely one activity that is effective in certain situations (e.g. when there is an emergency), and horrible in other situations (when the community must take responsibility to navigate tricky transitions).
Unfortunately, all too often people in positions of leadership have only this one leadership activity in their minds. This brings up the old adage, If you only have a hammer in your toolbox, everything looks like a nail. Applying the same failed activity over and over in the wrong situation will only lead to failure and disillusionment.
Conflict is absolutely necessary in a thriving church culture.
I’m not saying that all conflict is healthy and constructive. Quite the contrary. Much of conflict is destructive. But the great strength of conflict is that it surfaces competing values and allows for clarity.
In a book I co-authored with Joe Jurkowski and Todd Hahn, Red Zone/Blue Zone: Turning Conflict Into Opportunity you can see how a leader can discover that conflict, seen as an opportunity rather than an enemy, will actually become your ally as a pastor.
We only grow when we are uncomfortable.
That’s right, life is about pain, though we live in a culture that avoids pain at all costs, and always seeks the win-win happy place. A watershed moment for a pastor is when he or she becomes aware of his or her own limitations and can begin to embrace those as opportunities rather than moral shortcomings.
I’ll keep exploring these important truths we don’t learn in seminary in a future post, but for now can I invite you to a learning experience with me and a few colleagues? re3vit@lize is the result of a new partnership between TAG Consulting and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a three year journey (two days each year) where we will explore together how to grow as a pastoral leader, lead change, mobilize your congregation, unleash the potential in the people you serve, and craft a thriving church culture where people can fulfill their God-given desires to belong, contribute, and make a difference. Please see the invitation below and join us in New England! For more information and to register, click on this link.
Dr. Jim Osterhaus is a Senior Partner at TAG Consulting and has served at one time or another as counselor/coach, professor, author, and consultant to a wide variety of organizations.